Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game, along the lines of the Advance Wars series, where players control futuristic mechs fighting off an invasion of giant, bug-like alien monsters. It’s basically Pacific Rim crossed with XCOM, and it’s from the creators of the addictive spaceship simulator FTL: Faster Than Light. If any of those words sound appealing to you, you’re going to like Into the Breach a lot.
The game takes place in a future on the brink of disaster. Much of humanity has been decimated by the kaiju invasion, with isolated pockets of survivors strewn across four different islands. You control a team of three mechs traveling to different districts across the islands, clearing them of bugs before moving on to the next. Each skirmish plays out sort of like a futuristic chess match, with the mechs and kaiju taking turns performing actions. Your goal, generally, is to clear out the aliens and protect human structures, but the aliens just want to destroy everything in sight.
Chances are, you won’t make it very far your first try — or the many subsequent attempts after that. Into the Breach is a challenging game, especially early on as you grapple with its unique systems. For one, there are the mechs themselves, each of which has its own unique characteristics. Early on, I was focused almost entirely on brute force, gravitating toward robots with powerful laser beams, strong punches, or missiles with a satisfyingly large blast radius. There’s also a crucial element of planning: you can actually see what the aliens will do in the next turn, and you need to react accordingly.
But as you progress, you’ll discover that there’s more to the game than simply killing swarms of giant bugs. For one thing, many of the maps in the game feature different win conditions. Sometimes you’ll need to protect a train or ensure that satellites launch safely. There are also environmental effects that can dramatically alter the map, like encroaching monsoons that devastate the shore or sinkholes that create deadly pits. Like FTL, the game is procedurally generated, so these aspects are slightly different each time you play. You never know exactly what you’re going to come up against in any given level.
Into the Breach also uses a unique energy system that carries over from one level to the next. Essentially, humanity has a power grid that loses energy as bugs destroy buildings and power plants. You can occasionally replenish it by securing specific zones, but once it’s fully depleted, the game is over. This gives you two main things to worry about: keeping your mechs alive, and ensuring humanity has enough energy to survive. The result is that each individual skirmish is intense on its own but also contributes to the war as a whole. If you lose most of your energy supply in one skirmish, it makes the rest of the game that much harder.
As you complete islands, you’ll be able to improve your mechs with new abilities and upgrades like more health or improved movement, and the pilots will gain experience and skills. You shouldn’t get too attached to any particular soldier, though. As I said before: coming to grips with Into the Breach’s interconnected systems takes some time, and you learn by dying. It took me more than a dozen tries before I made it off of the first island. In the game’s fiction, you’re actually a band of time-traveling heroes, so when you die, you simply go back in time and try again. But there’s a limit: you’re only able to bring one pilot back in time, forcing you to abandon others who you’ve honed in battle.
This structure, combined with Into the Breach’s comparatively small-scale battles, makes it a fast-paced experience, especially by strategy game standards. Individual battles often last just a few minutes, and a single playthrough can take around a half hour, depending on what path you take. Of course, getting to the point where you can play through to the end will take much longer than that. Because the game is so brisk, playing through similar scenarios multiple times isn’t a chore; it’s a chance to try out new strategies and experiment with new ideas. As you play, you’ll unlock new teams of mechs, and you can mix and match them to create your own ideal trio. Swapping one robot for another can dramatically change how the game plays.
With a huge variety of robots, Into the Breach seems to encourage this kind of experimentation. I found myself adding seemingly useless mechs to my teams just to learn more about them, and I almost always became attached once I learned their strengths. One such machine is a floating barge that has no actual attacking abilities. Instead, it can pull aliens around the map and erect protective shields around human buildings. After a few trips through time, it became my favorite unit in the game. I would pull aliens away from fragile buildings and toward hazards like forest fires or tidal waves. Whereas other mechs were implements of destruction, this one felt like a tool that gave me greater control over the invaders.
At this point, I’ve played through close to 100 rounds of Into the Breach, battling across similar maps while tinkering with my small team of mechanical warriors. But I’m not even close to mastering the game. For a strategy game, Into the Breach is remarkably easy to get into. The rules are simple to understand, and the action moves at a brisk pace. But once you get beyond that surface understanding, it reveals itself to be a game of incredible depth and flexibility. When I’m not playing, I find myself thinking about optimal monster-fighting techniques.
Really, the only complaint I can think to level against Into the Breach is the platform. It’s a fantastic experience on PC (Mac and Linux versions are also on the way), but FTL really hit its stride when it came out on the iPad, and I think something similar could happen here. The battles just seem so well-suited to both touchscreen play and portability, that a shift in platform would only enhance an already excellent experience. I can definitely see myself dedicating a few dozen more hours to playing the game on the go. For now, though, I need to continue honing my kaiju-hunting skills.
Into the Breach is available tomorrow on PC.